Best known as a founding member of Television and an inspiration to generations of musicians who color outside the lines, Richard Lloyd helped create New York’s punk rock scene of the 1970s at CBGB and other clubs where Television played, along with groundbreaking acts such as The Ramones, The Patti Smith Group, Talking Heads and Blondie.
You can hear Lloyd’s explosive guitar playing on his current tour, which includes shows at Asbury Lanes on April 5, The Kingsland in Brooklyn on April 21, and The Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair on April 22. He will be backed by bassist David Leonard and drummer Kevin Tooley.
Lloyd will play songs from Television’s 1977 debut release Marquee Moon, widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in rock history, as well as songs from his 1979 debut solo album Alchemy, his most recent album The Countdown (2020) and others.
In Television, Lloyd, along with bandmates — the late singer-songwriter-guitarist Tom Verlaine, bassists Richard Hell and Fred Smith (who replaced Hell in 1975) and drummer Billy Ficca — defied categorization, producing poetic songs and captivating guitar improvisations. They released a second album, Adventure, in 1978, before disbanding later that year. They re-formed in 1992, releasing a self-titled album. Lloyd left the band in 2007; he also has played with other artists, including Matthew Sweet and John Doe.
“I’m proud of the work that I did and what we (Television) did — definitely a ‘we,’ ” Lloyd said in a recent interview from a car, en route to a gig. “We did what we set out to do, really. With one record, we changed the history of rock ‘n’ roll to a considerable degree.”
And after his turbulent journey, he’s still got the fire to play.
“Yes, I have plenty of energy,” he said. “I play about 75 minutes” at concerts.
He added, “you’ve gotta do the (songs) that please the older folks and the younger people.”
Is it uncomfortable to play Television songs without your former bandmates?
“It’s fair to play them,” he said. “I played all the leads and we traded solos. So, I just do all the solos and I can cover a number of the songs. I can’t do ‘Marquee Moon’ because we are only playing as a trio and you absolutely need two guitars for that, but other than that I can play them.”
Lenny Kaye, longtime Patti Smith collaborator, producer and author, said “Richard Lloyd was the hidden secret to Television’s early success. … he brought a sense of guitar line and rhythmic underlay that allowed Tom Verlaine to spiral and arc lead lines, and it is often hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. In his solo career, he has continued to explore the possibilities of the six strings and how they elaborate and enfold a song.
“I remember our days hanging at CBGB with much pleasure, and sharing a stage with him last November at the Bowery Electric only reaffirmed his mastery of his instrument and his unfailing good humor.”
Born in 1951 in Pittsburgh, Lloyd now lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. In his riveting 2017 book, “Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll: The Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist,” and in our conversation, he shared stories about his childhood, his family’s relocation to Greenwich Village and later to Montclair, his encounters with drug addiction and recovery, and his drive to play guitar. He spoke of his creative differences with Verlaine, and his spiritual and philosophic explorations.
He recounted his financial struggles, sexual escapades, supernatural experiences and missed opportunities.
He explained in his book that he first started playing drums, but an auditory hallucination suggested he “play a melody instrument.” Lucky for us, he chose the guitar.
In the ’60s and early ’70s, if you lived in New York and walked around a lot, you were almost guaranteed to run into people who inspired you. And he did, meeting Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker and others and learning guitar techniques from them.
We spoke about his friendship with the actress and model Anita Pallenberg, who had three children (one of whom died 10 weeks after birth) with Keith Richards. “I loved Anita,” he said.
Lloyd said both Pallenberg and Verlaine possessed the “It” factor.
“Yeah, I saw ‘It’ in Tom for sure,” he said.
What did you see?
“It,” he said, emphatically. “If you don’t know what it is, you don’t have it. It is indications of an energetic body that I’ve already described to you physiologically. It’s an emotional and energy body that’s separate from the planetary or physical body, but lives in the same space and takes the form as the physical body. They are correlates.
“She came to see Television and fell in love with me. And I fell in love with her and Marlon (her son). It was like that. I’ve had platonic relationships with women and that was one of them.”
Was part of Tom’s “It” factor expressed through his unique guitar playing?
“No, he had some songs,” Lloyd said. “His guitar playing was superb, but he had songs and I didn’t have that many songs at the time. He played some songs. And I knew I could improve them to the point that they needed to be improved.”
Together you were wonderful.
“Together is better than all apart, but I can’t prevent his health from failing and him going — a part of life is dying,” he said. (Verlaine died in January, at the age of 73.)
In a previous interview, Chris Frantz of Talking Heads discussed his frustration with failing to get songwriting credit and with David Byrne’s level of collaboration. I asked Lloyd if his experience was similar. “Oh God, don’t get me started,” he said. “Just take what he said and say it came from me and it would be accurate.”
Does this still bother him?
“I’m not really bothered by anything,” he said. “I could say it was frustrating. I never did this to get wealthy, and he did. My motivation is not of this world … I don’t have any wants. I just travel along.”
We discussed a harrowing episode at Beth Israel Hospital in New York when heroin use contributed to a nearly fatal case of endocarditis (an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart). Lloyd spent three months in the hospital and was told that his survival required surgery to replace a heart valve.
He attributed his recovery to Bob Marley’s cover of Richie Havens’ “African Herbsman.” While he was fighting for his life one weekend, waiting for his Monday heart surgery, he recited the lyrics to the song to himself over and over until it became a meditative loop in his head. (In the audio version of his chilling book, he sings part of the song to his readers). When the weekend ended, his doctor declared him miraculously better, and cancelled the surgery.
His connection to Albert “Al” Anderson, he believes, is the reason Bob Marley’s spirit was present during his hospital stay. He met Anderson, who played guitar for Marley from 1974 to 1980, as a high school senior in Montclair. It was 1970, and senior boredom was eased by marijuana, which Lloyd introduced to Anderson.
“My parents decided to move to Montclair and bought a big house on Christopher Street,” he said. “I was 17 and it was a decision whether or not I wanted to go with them. And I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give it another year.’ It was a great house and I had the whole top floor to myself and a huge bedroom. They said to me, ‘You can get a job or go back to high school for another 12th grade,’ because I had left in May of my graduating year from Stuyvesant (High School in New York).
“I didn’t want a diploma. I had a guitar and that’s what I rooted for.”
From a small landscaped area facing the entrance of the school, he watched unfamiliar faces entering the first day.
“I borrowed a saxophone and I can’t play saxophone worth anything,” he said. “So I’m blowing the saxophone — honk, honk — and these girls are going into the school, pointing fingers at me and laughing at me and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and he says, ‘Do you play saxophone?’ I said, ‘No, I play guitar.’ He said, ‘Well, what are you doing with a saxophone?’ I said, ‘I’m calling you.’ And that was Al Anderson. Not the one who played in NRBQ, but the one who played with Bob Marley.
“He was a great guitarist and we used to take electric guitars to high school and play on the steps of the senior lounge with no amplifiers. There were three of us: Ed Rogers, Al Anderson and myself.”
Students were cutting class. The senior lounge was “so full of kids that they (school staff) shut it down,” he said.
“Later on, a large group of us went to Boston. We had friends going to Berklee (College of Music, which Anderson attended) and Boston University. I went to three days of college and I thought it was like high school plus. Nothing but bad relationships.
“Then I went to L.A. and lost touch with Albert and the next thing I know he was playing with Bob Marley. He was the only American to have been in Bob’s touring band. He’s on the Live! record. He played the solo on the hit ‘No Woman, No Cry.’ ”
Lloyd says of his connection to Anderson and Marley, “It’s all very complex. I believe in karma. I believe that there is a different realm through which people can move if they have … an interior structure that resembles the human being and sits in the same place as the physical body, but is far superior in its actions. There’s a connection between people. It just is.
“Al was a star football player. If it weren’t for me, he would have probably gone into the NFL. He was in a top cover band, Red Bred … So it would have been between football and guitar, but he wouldn’t have been a pot smoker.”
So, you introduced him into a world of pot smoking and that enabled him to work with Bob Marley?
“Yeah,” Lloyd said. “So I thought Bob owed me.” And the favor was returned by helping him get through his illness.
Lloyd also has spent time in mental institutions, because of bipolar disorder.
“Albert once visited me in Greystone State (in Morris Plains),” he said. “Woody Guthrie was (a patient) there. I was a visitor there for three months. They gave me chemical shock treatments. He came in and looked at me and started crying. I said, ‘Why are you crying, Albert?’ He said, ‘Because you’re gone. You’re not there.’ They beat the ghost out of me.”
He was in Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y., for three months, too. “Three months is as long as they can put you in before they had to put you in permanently,” he said.
Would your issues with addiction and career path been different if your bipolar disorder had been better understood back then?
“Certainly, there are better meds,” he said. “I take three meds. One for my brain and a couple for my heart. I’m loaded up on meds and I have been for a decade or more. They are very good to me. It took four or five years just to get the right blend. I had to try a lot of stuff. I had tardive dyskinesia … it was really bad.”
Lloyd’s early years in New York served as his classroom. “I met all the great guitarists because I grew up in Greenwich Village,” he said. “Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck — and I was not a fan of Eric Clapton. He was definitely not God. Although I missed him at the beginning when he was a superb bluesman.”
Lloyd made fast friends with Velvert Turner, a Brooklyn native who died in 2000. Turner was a guitar player who got lessons from Hendrix. Turner passed on the lessons to Lloyd.
“Velvert was this kid who claimed to know Jimi Hendrix and everyone laughed at him, except for me,” said Lloyd. “We became friends and he took me to my first Jimi Hendrix concert the day I met him. We were best friends in our middle teenage years. I got to walk through the backstage of the Fillmore with Jimi and Velvert.
“Jimi was teaching Velvert to play guitar and I only lived six blocks from where Jimi had an apartment, so Velvert would come to my house to play and we would trade the guitar back and forth to try to conquer the kind of things that Jimi was showing Velvert. And I gained a lot through that practice. We would do silly things like hold the guitar with one hand out from your body and do a 1-4-5 progression by jostling the guitar neck. You have to have a lot of strength to do that: to catch it in the right place.”
Velvert took Lloyd to Hendrix’s recording sessions, too. And then there was an unintentional insult incident when Lloyd upset Hendrix.
“Jimi once socked me in the jaw and stomach and I sat down and he waited 45 minutes until I came out of it and apologized and cried all over my hands, so that’s a contact,” he said, adding, “Like the guys in China who will go and get beat up in order to steal somebody’s chi.”
Hendrix expressed frustration in his 1967 song “Manic Depression,” singing “music, sweet music, I wish I could caress … manic depression is a frustrating mess.”
“That’s a great song and is still apropos for us bipolar people,” Lloyd said. “It’s unfortunate because mania is fantastic for creativity. It just goes beyond reason. It’s the same with drugs. You get this period full of creativity and then slowly it takes that away from you. You got to time it correctly in order to survive.”
Is there a way to be creative without those manic episodes and without drugs?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not as creative as I could be, probably, if I was in a mania. It’s a sacrifice. I’m much more stable now.”
Lloyd had other excellent teachers. In 1971, he went into John Lee Hooker’s dressing room to try to absorb his energy. Hooker invited him to play with him onstage, which made him very nervous.
“My knees were knocking when he invited me up to play with him,” Lloyd said. “I was scared to death, but I did it. Hooker said, ‘I’ll tell you the secret of the electric guitar. Take all the strings off but for one and learn to play it down and up, and up and down (the fretboard). And shake it and bend it.’ And then he said, ‘Put two on, then three, then four and you’ll work your way up to six strings and you’ll be a master.’
“I took him at his word, but I couldn’t afford to take the strings off. I didn’t have enough money (to buy new strings). No money. We ate sandwiches for a summer. We’d cut our sandwiches six ways.”
Lloyd moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and came back to New York in the middle of 1973, moving to Greenwich Village
He has inspired younger artists through his performances, but also through guitar lessons, including those found on YouTube (see video below) and finds artists’ respect “gratifying and rewarding and embarrassing all wrapped up in one,” he said. He writes on his website about giving Jeff Tweedy, frontman of Wilco, a private lesson in Chicago. (Wilco opened shows for Matthew Sweet when Lloyd toured with Sweet and they became friends).
Lloyd says he spends his time “practicing a lot” because whatever inexplicable force that drove him as a young boy to pick up the guitar still drives him to play today. It’s healing and meditative for him, as music is for many of us.
As his book demonstrates, Lloyd is a great storyteller, so I hope he writes another one exploring subjects like his interest in science and his current adventures off the road in Tennessee with his wife Sheila O’Keefe Lloyd.
He writes, in the book, about his belief in a “true wish” that involves faith, willpower and a dream. He says that by the time he was a teenager he was focused on becoming an impactful guitarist, and his wish came true.
I asked him if he will schedule another tour when his current one ends.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “For now, it’s going great.”
For more on Lloyd, visit richardlloyd.com.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.